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International Relations

India Tibet Relations – History of annexation of Tibet by China

India Tibet Relations – History of annexation of Tibet by China


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || China

Why in the news?

Tibet had acted as a buffer between India and China for thousands of years. It is only after the 1950s that the two countries shared a common border after China invaded and occupied Tibet.


Relations between India and Tibet are historically and ethnically linked. Tibet was not considered an independent territory until 1950, but things began to shift gradually, and after the Dalai Lama fled to India, events culminated in the 1962 Indo-Sino War. The Dalai Lama’s recent visit to India was not well received by the Chinese.

India’s Tibet Policy:

  • India did not contest China’s control over Tibet; instead, it acknowledged Tibet as a part of China in order to build a strong relationship with Beijing. India went on to develop the “Pancha Sheel” strategy, which would serve as the foundation for India-China ties.
  • India’s Tibet policy has always been influenced by China. From 1954, when Nehru relinquished India’s British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet and accepted China’s annexation, to the most recent episode of the Dalai Lama visit, India has allowed China’s intrusion into its internal affairs.

The 1959- Tibetan Uprising:

  • No Chinese government had jurisdiction over what is now China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) from 1912 to 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded.
  • Many Tibetans believe they were mostly independent for the majority of that time, and they have fought Chinese rule imposed since the People’s Liberation Army conquered TAR in 1950. Until 1951, the Dalai Lama’s administration was the sole ruler of Tibet.
  • Tibet was not “Chinese” until Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into the region and declared it such.
  • This has been referred described as “cultural genocide” by Tibetans and third-party opponents.
  • After the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, in which Tibetans sought to overthrow the Chinese government, the 14th Dalai Lama escaped to India.

The changes after the Tibetan Uprising of 1959

  • China’s central government has been slowly increasing its control on Tibet since the 1959
  • There is no freedom of expression, religion, or the press in Tibet today, and arbitrary detentions persist.
  • Forcible abortion, sterilisation of Tibetan women, and the deportation of low-income Chinese nationals all pose a threat to Tibetan culture’s survival.
  • Although China has invested in infrastructure improvements for the region, particularly in Lhasa itself, it has also encouraged thousands of ethnic Han Chinese to move to Tibet resulting into demographic shifts.
  • The 14th Dalai Lama, continues to head the Tibetan government-in-exile from McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, India which coordinates political activities for Tibetans in India.
  • The Dalai Lama advocates increased autonomy for Tibet, rather than full independence, but the Chinese government generally refuses to negotiate with him.
  • Periodic unrest still sweeps through Tibet, especially around important dates such as March 10 to 19 – the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising.
  • In 1959 the Indian government had agreed to provide asylum to the Dalai Lama and his followers in India along with permission to establish a government-in-exile in the northern hill station of Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh. Refugees came pouring in through Tawang, The Brahmaputra Valley and other routes.

Issues with Tibet:

  • Neo-Colonialism: Many recent experts have observed that, under the guise of liberty, China has converted Tibet into a Neo-Colonialism zone.
  • Repressive policies: China has consistently used harsh measures against the Tibetan people to legitimize its invasion and occupation of Tibet.
  • Claiming Tibet as backward: Traditional Tibetan society, or ‘Old Tibet,’ as China refers to it, was backward and in need of changes, like most of its Asian contemporaries, but it is inaccurate to label it ‘feudal,’ as this was not the case.
  • Human rights exploitation: Concerns voiced by independent human rights experts throughout the world, as well as reports from throughout the world. Tibet, for example, was listed as the least free territory in the world in the Freedom in the World 2019 report, with no freedoms, political rights, or civil liberties.
  • Imposing of Chinese culture in urge of development: “The Chinese government’s economic development programs in Tibet have strongly encouraged ethnic Chinese migration to the region, disproportionately benefited ethnic Chinese residents, and exacerbated the marginalization of ethnic Tibetans, who have also been displaced by mass resettlement,” according to Freedom House report.
  • Colonies are exploited: This is remarkably similar to the way colonial powers exploit colonies in the name of economic progress. China’s ostensibly economic achievements are concentrated on pockets of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) that are densely inhabited by Chinese migrants and serve self-interest.
  • Exploiting religious faith and culture: China has now begun interfering with the religious education given to Buddhist monks and nuns in the area.
  • Imposing atheist eradicating Dalai Lama’s beliefs: When it comes to guaranteeing that only someone directly under its control gets to formally take over the Dalai Lama’s mantle, China’s apparently atheist system is allegedly resorting to superstition to fit its purpose.

Additional info:

  • Tibet:
    • Tibet is a region in Asia on the Tibetan Plateau that covers over 2.4 million km2 (almost a fourth of China’s area) and is the traditional homeland of Tibetans and other ethnic groups.
    • With an average height of 4,900 meters, Tibet is the highest area on the planet. Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, rises 8,848 meters above sea level in Tibet.


Tibet has evolved in the last 60 years, but for the worse. China governed Tibet for 60 years, employing every trick in the book of “how to destroy a civilization,” if such a book existed, and yet China feels compelled to issue the so-called white paper to substantiate its claims of advancement. What China fails to see is that progress is a tool for improving human existence, not a means to an end. No amount of backwardness can excuse a civilization being attacked, occupied, and destroyed by another society.

Mains oriented question:

Examine India’s Tibet policy critically. Do you believe that, in view of China’s assertiveness in the area, India should be more forceful and strive to use its position in Tibet? Comment (250 words)